The single sleeves: the embodiment of pop art
Today we unveil the first public exhibition of the collected single sleeves created by Barney Bubbles; a stunning virtual presentation featuring a host of rarely seen images.
The single sleeves are important since they – more than any other area of Barney’s work – embody the characteristics of pop art as defined by Richard Hamilton in 1957:
Pop Art is:
Popular (designed for a mass audience)
Transient (short-term solution)
Expendable (easily forgotten)
Young (aimed at youth)
Barney’s single sleeves comply, though, of course, he added the particular characteristic of anonymity. Only one sleeve carries a credit – for the lettering above Humphrey Ocean’s portrait on England’s Glory/Dream Tobacco by Max Wall (apparently at the insistence of the late comic genius).
More will be added over the coming months; just last night at the Nick Lowe/Ry Cooder aftershow, Soft Boys’ leader Robyn Hitchcock confirmed what had long been posited: Barney was responsible for his band’s 1978 Radar single (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp/Fat Man’s Son.
Collectively this represents an inspired body of commercial work, much of it concentrated in the post-punk period after Barney returned to the music business in March 1977.
In the days when hit singles sold in their hundreds of thousands, Barney (who majored in cardboard design for retail purposes at college) almost single-handedly ignited the explosion of 45rpm packaging as it came back into vogue.
Eager to address the problem-solving possibilities offered by multiple releases and coloured vinyl, Barney produced at an impressive rate, with few, if any, falling below the high quality threshold.
The mask of anonymity eased adoption of a dizzying array of styles and approaches. Yet themes, symbols, fonts and techniques recur and develop: hearts, arrows, stars, tears, physiognomy, dynamic use of colour, art history references, industry in-jokes, photographic treatments and so on.
Some contain elements contributed by others; obviously the images of the photographers with whom he worked, and also releases such as Accidents Will Happen, where Barney applied the concept of inverting the sleeve. The stills which ended up on the inside came from the promo for the song made by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Designs for earlier releases, such as The Pie and Silver Machine, were completed by record companies out of artwork he had already created for albums or posters.
We start with the folded paper sleeve for the Christmas message of 1966 Barney recorded in a railway station auto recording booth for family and a few friends and move on to big sellers such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, which reached number one and spent 15 weeks in the UK chart.
Visit the exhibition here; download tracks by clicking on individual sleeves. These days music arrives naked, so come celebrate a time when it paraded all gussied up and garbed in finery.
Tags: (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp, 1957, 70 single sleeve designs, Accidents Will Happen, Annabel Jankel, Barney Bubbles, Darling Let's Have Another Baby, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, England's Glory, FBeat, From Head To Toe, Ian Dury, Johnny Moped, March 1977, Max Wall, Nick Lowe, pop art, Radar, Richard Hamilton, Robyn Hitchcock, Rocky Morton, Ry Cooder, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Silver Machine, Stiff, The Pie, The Soft Boys, virtual exhibition